Thursday, July 16, 2009

Train to the past

I boarded the Metro from Krishi Bhavan, having followed very clear instructions from concerned parents about how to buy the token and how to use it. The cleanliness of the station, the silence and the discipline were amazing -- it seemed like I had descended the stairs to another world, where rickety buses, shouting conductors hanging out of the doors and rushing hordes of people didn't exist.

The train was 'wow' and the journey was great fun, as I observed fellow passengers, trying to make out how many were regular travellers; how many, like me, were excited, yet apprehensive; and how many were not really there in the train. I disembarked at the DU station, came out, and stood still. A couple of cycle rickshaw guys saw my uncertainty as the opportunity to make a fast buck, but I 've lived long enough to see through that. I didn't know which part of the University I was in. I looked around for familiar landmarks, but much has changed and 10 years is a really long time. Finally, I was able to make out Chhatra Marg and gladly moved that way.

Better dressed students, more cars and mobile phones, more parking, more cycle rickshaws and facelifts to certain areas was my impression of DU, until I entered D School. It was as if I'd never been away. The building's facade was much improved -- seepage ridden walls had been repaired and the canteen looked, to use a less-used word, posh. Ratan Tata Library was under renovation, but everything else was the same, from the colour of the walls to the bench outside the office.

Voices from the past followed me down the corridor, and many faces that I'd all but forgotten suddenly came back. The new-look, much cleaner canteen served filter coffee as before, and, it tasted just as it had all those years back. I wonder if they have a patent on that recipe. Even the man behind the cash counter and the man serving the coffee were the same as a decade ago. The entire experience was like being reconnected to a part of me that I'd forgotten about, that I'd left far behind in the race of life. It was wonderful to be able to find that bit of my life again, to get re-acquainted with the time gone by.

I took the familiar route through Kirori Mal to Kamla Nagar, and was assaulted by the passage of years. The bookshops facing Kirori Mal had given way to those hallmarks of retail culture--branded goods showrooms, Barista, et al. A walk down one radial revealed that the infestation was widespread. There were very few signs of the neighbourhood shops or the humble restaurants that I remembered; everywhere I looked, I could see big showrooms, the 'Hey look, I've got money' syndrome, and exhortations to spend, spend, spend.

The nostalgia trip did me a world of good, though I wish I hadn't been jolted back to reality so suddenly. The one thing that was unchanged, and I was glad of that, was that the biggest stockist of Hindi literature books in Kamla Nagar still existed, and I was able to add to my collection significantly with his help.

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